How Fabric Structures Help With Firefighting and Displacement During Wildfire Season

Wildfire season is a stressful time of year for those living and working in affected regions, as well as those on the frontlines who are fighting to stop the fires from spreading. 

Last year’s wildfire season in 2021 saw about 7.13 million acres of burned land across the country. About 10.1 million acres were devastated the year prior in 2020, and 10.13 acres were devastated from a little over 68,000 fires just five years earlier in 2015. Over 1,000 homes were lost to wildfires in 2015, leaving homeowners displaced and vulnerable. 

Wildfires have a detrimental effect on ecosystems, homes, and workplaces as well as on the lives of civilians, animals, and firefighters in local areas. And each year is expected to be just as bad — if not worse — than the previous year given the extensive droughts that are increasingly affecting the West Coast.

When the month of June comes to a close each year, the spring rains disappear, leaving areas like California, western Nevada, and southern Idaho at a higher than average risk of severe wildfires. Other than investing in full-coverage fire insurance and ensuring that they receive updates about fires in their region, homeowners need help in minimizing their risk of injury, death, displacement, and financial devastation from fires. 

Displacement Prevention Efforts During Wildfire Season

Being prepared, educated, and having human help for intervention are key areas to ensure the safety of civilians, animals, and ecosystems. These areas also help in minimizing displacement due to housing loss. 

Firefighters and other emergency responders such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are the major forces for prevention and response throughout wildfire seasons. Other federal agencies tied to land use, wildlife preservation, and fire suppression are also vital in the fight against fires and in helping communities recover from them.

One of the most effective solutions to minimize secondary loss is having access to portable facilities such as fabric structures. Most homeowners, and the general community, are often underprepared and don’t have plans in place to minimize their risks in terms of health, safety, and potential displacement. Portable Fabric Shelters for Emergency Shelter Use

Portable shelters and fabric structures are a viable solution for first responders and those whose homes are destroyed by fire-related causes. They’re also a solution for people that were placed under evacuation orders. The average homeowner is at the mercy of their Homeowners Association’s insurance policy and fire insurance company if they evacuate due to an imminent threat from a fire or if their home is burned. 

Hotels, motels, and other nearby short-term housing quickly reach capacity once evacuation orders are in place. This causes those who are without shelter to be in even more vulnerable and frightening positions. 

Deployable fabric shelter solutions such as portable cabins and outfitter camps allow displaced homeowners to have more control over their emergency housing needs. They provide safe and private access to shelter in the days immediately following a fire-related housing crisis.

Independent Facilities for Hotshot Crews Are Vital 

Wildfire seasons are growing longer and more intense as excessive heat and prolonged droughts fall upon areas of the Western U.S. Hotshot firefighting crews — who are specifically trained to deal with and respond to wildfires in remote locations — are in high demand between the months of August and November to fight widespread wildfires in target areas. 

With these challenges in mind, hotshot crews need secure and readily available facilities as part of their response efforts. Hotshot crews rarely have independent facilities and also commonly have to share their operation bases with other organizations due to a lack of available facilities. Sharing space is often not feasible or efficient given the types of equipment and resources they need to do their job well.

Deployable fabric shelters are imperative for responding to and fighting wildfires and support hotshot crews’ integral role in fighting fires that destroy seven million acres of land and over 2,600 structures per year

Types of Facilities Used By Hotshot Crews

Beyond independent facilities, hotshot crews need robust, functional, and structurally sound structures at their bases. Some of the structures commonly used at operation bases include:

Wooden structures are often used because they’re readily available for use as existing structures. Pop-up tents are generally easy to acquire and quick to set up but they’re not temperature-controlled, have limited space, and are more susceptible to destruction during disasters. 

Engineered fabric structures, including canopies and enclosed shelters, are sturdy and much less vulnerable to deterioration from weather conditions. 

Engineered fabric structures from WeatherPort® Shelter Systems offer a viable solution to the needs of hotshot crew operations without the drawbacks of low-grade, off-the-shelf alternatives. 

Fabric Building Facilities Needed By Hotshot Crews

Hotshot crews need facilities for their day-to-day operations just as much as they need them for emergency use during fire crises. Crews have administrative duties, educational tasks, and training as part of their job description. 

Agencies in charge of hotshot crews sometimes provide athletic training facilities, educational facilities, mobile offices, fire cache, and areas for tools and equipment. However, most crews lack these resources.

Hotshot crews also need workforce accommodations since they’re usually in remote locations while fighting fires. Work hours are typically very long since fires are, by nature, unpredictable.

Organizations should consider adding the following structures to their bases to support hotshot crews and their efforts during wildfire season:

A fully functional hotshot firefighting crew needs the proper accommodations to help them fulfill their duties. Managing fires is both physically and mentally demanding, so it’s important to support the needs of crew members as much as possible. This will enable them to put their best effort forward to keep communities safe during wildfire season. 

Benefits of Fabric Facilities During Wildfire Season

Portable shelters are essential for displaced homeowners in the case of fire-related emergencies. But in reality, these fabric structures are usually only provided by first responder agencies. 

These first responders most commonly include medical personnel and FEMA employees, as well as firefighters and hotshot crews, who work tirelessly at fire suppression, evacuation, and search and rescue missions for those trapped by rapidly spreading wildfires. 

Having engineered fabric structures on hand is vital for both displaced community members and hotshot firefighting crews for a range of reasons. 

Rapidly Deployable 

Fabric shelters are rapidly deployable, requiring less than 10 minutes to assemble and install. They’re easy to transport due to their low-cube packaging, which makes all the difference in times of crisis. 

Given the proximity of the fires, anything that can’t quickly assemble, disassemble, and relocate makes little sense and could endanger those who are performing search and rescue missions. 

Being prepared with facilities at quick disposal minimizes displacement from fires, and ensures those periods remain as brief as possible. 

Durable

Since the demand for hotshot crews is increasing, it’s vital that they have safe facilities that can withstand the test of time and continue to properly function.

Unlike off-the-shelf pop-up tents and canopies, engineered fabric structures use high-quality materials that can withstand harsh conditions. WeatherPort’s fabric buildings include the following durability features:

  • UV-stabilized: They can withstand prolonged exposure to intense solar loads. 
  • Abrasion resistance: They have a higher resistance to abrasion than other polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride-based fabrics. 
  • Fire safety requirements: They can be designed with fabric membranes that exceed the fire safety requirements outlined in the California Code of Regulations for membrane structures. 
  • Mold and mildew resistance: Fabric won’t rot or collect mildew and mold.

WeatherPort’s fabric structures also feature high-strength frame systems made of either aircraft-grade aluminum or galvanized steel, depending on your building model and specific needs. For example, our HGB Series uses a single-arch frame and features a straight-wall design maximizing interior space for your operation base crew. It’s highly customizable and is available in widths of up to 30’, any length, and an eave height of 6’. 

Our fabric buildings — such as the HGB Series, smaller GB Series (also referred to as portable cabins), and larger DAGB Series (available in custom widths up to 150’) — provide highly durable facilities that exceed the benefits of traditional buildings. They’re low-maintenance and rarely need upkeep or repair, making them ideal long-term solutions for hotshot crews and displaced fire victims. 

Built for Safety

WeatherPort’s fabric structures are engineered and designed to meet requirements from area-specific International Building Code (IBC) standards, such as high wind loads. Hotshot crews and community members should feel safe and protected during intense wildfire conditions.

Hotshot crew members are routinely facing danger head-on every time there’s a dispatch call. These dangers include fire, thick smoke, and intense wind conditions, which often require fabric structures as an escape. 

Fabric buildings also protect from the following hazards:

  • Prolonged sun exposure
  • Heavy rain and other inclement weather 
  • Extreme cold and hot temperatures  

Cost-Effective 

Traditional buildings are much less cost-effective to build since they require many materials, builders, contracting supervisors, as well as heavy machinery and equipment. And facilities used by hotshot crews are typically temporary and only used for a short period of time. 

Fabric structures are superior in that they save you money in more ways than initial assembly and installation costs. Your organization’s money can go directly toward fire-related issues rather than costs associated with traditional buildings. 

Here are some areas in which you’ll see savings:

  • Lighting: Translucent fabric allows light to penetrate and illuminate interiors, reducing the need for electrical lighting throughout the day.
  • Energy efficiency: Fabric structures are temperature-controlled and often feature energy-efficient HVAC and insulation systems to reduce high energy costs.
  • Shipping: Low-cube packaging enables quick and economical shipping when crew members need to relocate.
  • Foundational anchoring: Fabric structures can anchor into virtually any level surface, saving costs on expensive foundational equipment and terrain impact.
  • Maintenance-free: Fabric facilities require minimal to no maintenance, unlike traditional buildings that need regular upkeep and repairs.


[Related: Energy-Efficient Fabric Buildings]

Spacious and Customizable

WeatherPort fabric structures are customizable to fit your operational needs. 

Many hotshot crews lack comfortable resting facilities and are left to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag. Fabric shelters feature expansion capabilities if additional space is needed for storage or housing accommodation systems at operation base camps. 

Private sleeping quarters with separate space for other tasks and storage can be fashioned in all our other fabric building models. Our Yurts, SQ Series, and GB Series work best as smaller scale shelter systems, most commonly portable cabins. Our HGB Series also functions well as a portable cabin but is also used as a larger camp system facility for sleep and rest, training facilities, and dining facilities

You can easily add sliding windows, hard-wall partition systems, skylights, furniture, and more to any of WeatherPort’s fabric facilities. This maximizes comfort for hotshot crew members as well as those who are displaced from fire-related loss. Ample space is key to proper rest and recovery after long days dealing with wildfires.

Contact WeatherPort to Prepare Your Facilities for Wildfire Season

Start preparing for this year’s wildfire season by investing in engineered fabric structures for your hotshot crew operation base. 


Contact WeatherPort by emailing us or requesting a quote and one of our building specialists will be in touch!

Author

  • WeatherPort Shelter Systems™ (WP) is a Colorado based business that custom-designs high-performance fabric buildings for any application. Our custom-built structures offer an unmatched level of portability and long-lasting durability. Since opening our doors in 1968, we have successfully produced and delivered engineered fabric structures to more than 85 countries!

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